The best season for life outdoors (at least in my personal opinion) is finally here! Iceland, as mentioned many times before, is absolutely beautiful and the best way of experiencing this is by going out to see it yourself. Iceland is full of hiking routes that vary in accessibility, length and difficulty level so there’s something for everyone and anyone who’d like to spend a short or a longer while travelling the country on foot. I assure you you can find as hard a level of difficulty as you like – see here for a news article on Leifur Leifsson’s attempt to climb the dangerous and extremely difficult route to the top of Hvannadalshnjúkur on Vatnajökull, the highest point of Iceland. As a small practise you can try to find out what exactly it is that makes his attempt so challenging (besides the fact that climbing on Hvannadalshnjúkur is such a demanding route that people aren’t allowed to partake in climbing tours there unless they have plenty of experience and are fit enough).
The cafe at the start of the walk. Not open yet when this photo was taken because we climbed the mountain so early in the morning.
However, for the rest of the world there are easier attempts as well. One particularly beautiful and pleasant route is in fact very near Reykjavík – the ever so lovely mount Esja, or Esjan as it’s most often referred to. The route is easy for the most part, only changing into moderately hard near the top, and takes approx. 5h to complete. However, many people take much longer f.ex. if they have children or pets climbing with them, and then there are people who jog up and down the mountain on regular basis, taking naturally much less. Esja is 914m above the sea at its highest point.
Since this entry will be a little bit on the long side I’m going to divide it in parts: this one takes us – me and my travel partner – to the fourth leg of the climb.
Taking the lead right from the start.
One of the most important things about hiking in Iceland is to be always well prepared. Number one thing you should always remember to have with you is common sense; if it at any point looks like there’ll be any serious difficulties up ahead it’s best to scrap the idea since getting in trouble on a mountain or in the wild is never a pleasant experience, even on one so close to the capital as this one is. Always check the weather first – even cloudiness can be dangerous on the path along the steep part of the mountain, not being able to see the horizon can play tricks on your sense of balance. Always dress up according to the weather and remember that the nearer you get to the top the colder and windier it will be. Good walking shoes are naturally a must. However, large amounts of things to carry are not, at least not on Esja. A small bottle of water will suffice because there’ll be plenty of opportunities to refill it on the way. A packed lunch will quickly help you restore energy and besides, climbing a mountain for hours gives quite a good appetite! Some snacks will also come in handy along the way, f.ex. chocolate.
The water in the tiny brooks is not only drinkable, it also tastes really, really good.
It takes roughly half an hour to drive there and there is also a bus connection, but that one mainly works during the week and since you may have to change buses once on the way it’ll naturally take longer. The buses operate on weekends as well but then they’re running rarely. It’s always a good idea to begin the climb in the morning: that way there’ll be less people on the mountain and the view will likely be at its best.
As you can see from the clothes the early morning was a bit chilly at first. Once we got past the third leg of the climb (there are in total six points that mark different stages of the climb) the day quickly grew hot and the coats had to go. Like the picture here can tell the climb is easy for the most part of it.
This is an important point along the route, the bridge at stage three. From here on you can choose between two routes to the top. For the official one you need to cross the bridge, for a short cut you should turn left. The official route is naturally a whole lot easier and because it was our first time on the mountain we decided to just follow the marked route instead of risking it on an unknown terrain.
The terrain on the short cut route, as seen from the official route. The path is steep and sandy – Nordic walking up this part is recommended.
A huge varða on the short cut route.
The sign at the fourth stage shows the route in total and how far on it you’ve come to. The three shoes mark the difficulty level up ahead, which at this point rises from easy to moderate: the text under the shoes describes the climb as easy but mentions there’ll occasionally be large rocks on the way up ahead. It also asks people to stay on the marked path to better protect the nature.
The text to the right of that describes the climb ahead in more detail. There may at some times be snow and/or ice on the mountain, in which case people should be careful when they climb (and there was, on the last legs of the climb which coincidentally are also the hardest).
The view from the fourth stage over Reykjavík. This is where we decided to rest for a short while, eat some of our packed lunch and fill up the water bottles from the stream. Up ahead the path turned to a steep climb over a short stretch of rocks so we figured we might as well gather some energy for it before we go. I may never have had such a beautiful view for eating sandwiches ever before!